Archive for February, 2013

CSIRO announces independent investigation into Workplace Bullying allegations

Posted on February 5, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized |

The following notification has been posted on CSIRO’s website.  Victims of CSIRO also received an email from CSIRO Deputy Chief Executive: Operations, Mr Mike Whelan advising of this notification.

This is a step in the right direction and we eagerly await release of the Terms of Reference.  We would like to point out however, that these allegations predate May 2012 by a significant period.

Reinforcing CSIRO values

CSIRO is committed to providing a positive working environment for all its people; where all forms of unacceptable behaviour – including discrimination, bullying, harassment, intimidation, or threats in the workplace – are not tolerated.

  • 5 February 2013

Since May 2012, there have been a series of allegations made by former employees of bullying and other misconduct matters while they were employed with CSIRO. Some of these cases CSIRO is aware of and have previously been the subject of independent review. Some cases were not known and we have therefore decided to appoint an eminent and experienced independent person to examine claims made by former employees.

This review mechanism is designed to provide an independent and formal means for former employees to raise concerns and allegations of inappropriate behaviour and misconduct whilst they were employed at CSIRO.

Should any of these allegations be proven, CSIRO is committed to taking action to address them. The aims of the review mechanism are to ensure our duty of care has been met to these people, recommend where further action is required and identify lessons we can learn to build into our future strategies.

This mechanism is not intended to establish a scheme under which former employees may apply for financial compensation or other remedies that would typically be able to be awarded by a court, tribunal or other administrative body. Nor is it intended to prejudice or substitute for other rights of recourse that a former CSIRO employee may have in relation to any loss or damage they believe they have suffered as a result of their treatment at CSIRO.

The terms of reference for this process are currently being finalised with input from the independent investigator. Once they have been finalised the details of the investigator and the terms of reference will be posted on this website.

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Resignation Fever

Posted on February 5, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized |

With the recent resignation of two senior government Ministers, especially the Minister for Science for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research, whose portfolio maintains overarching responsibility for the CSIRO, we can only hope that the incoming Minister, the Hon. Senator Chris Bowen, will heed the call of his opposition counterpart and take the matter of the toxic workplace culture within the CSIRO a lot more seriously.

‘Victims of CSIRO’ and its members, have contacted Senator Evans on a number of occasions requested his immediately intervention in an increasing number of serious issues of workplace bullying and victimisation plaguing the science organisation

Senator Evan’s response to the ‘Victims’ call for action in relation to  the science organisation has been lacklustre at best with Senator Evans insinuating during a radio interview conducted by Mike Welsh on Radio 2CC that victims of workplace bullying, and in particular the psychologically vulnerable and suicidal, were sensationalising the issue.  This is offensive in the extreme to those who have suffered unrelenting workplace bullying and harassment!

It would appear that even the government itself is failing to set a proper example for Commonwealth agencies with a number of senior ALP figures offering criticism over the toxic culture within the party itself.

There have been calls from a number of groups advocating a change of culture within federal agencies for the Australian government to intervene more generally in relation to the toxic culture which evidence suggests is occurring across the public service.

We call upon the Hon. Senator Bowen to take a firm hand in dealing with the cultural issues plaguing the CSIRO.

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Surviving, and beating, workplace harassment

Posted on February 4, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Below is an article on bullying published in the Canberra Times this morning.  In particular, it suggests their are approaches other than the Work Health and Safety legislation which might be open to victims of bullying including a breach of article 7 of the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights as well as the potential criminal implications of bullying which are intended to injure.

Then again, it can be very difficult to get the Human Rights Commission to investigate any breach of human rights where that breach involves a government agency.

Surviving, and beating, workplace harassment

February 5, 2013

Kathryn-Magnolia Feeley

Victims of workplace bullying have a far wider range of legal avenues to protect their rights to work safely than may be apparent, including international human rights law.

jpc000617.004.002.  for GENERAL NEWS.  photo by JOE CASTRO.  THE AGE.  MELBOURNE.  Generic Photo of young man under a lot of stress at a work environment.   For story on suicide. stressed , pressure , work ,Bullying often leaves its victims with a feeling of intense fear, helplessness and horror of the workplace. Photo: Joe Castro

A toxic workplace is a dangerous workplace. When bullying is tolerated or has become a part of a workplace’s culture, that workplace is negligent in its responsibility to protect the safety of staff. The employer is then liable to pay you compensation if you are injured as a result of working in such a toxic environment.

Here’s a recent case of an Australian workplace falling foul of the law for failing to prevent bullying. Five men had grabbed a 16-year-old factory worker and wrapped him in cling wrap from neck to feet, shoved him into a trolley, and then pushed the trolley to the edge of a four-metre hole. These ”workmates” then gagged the boy, smeared sawdust and glue on him, and then turned a fire hose on him. Sometime later, the foreman cut him loose. The managers said nothing to the bullies; they didn’t see a problem.

If a gang at work conspires to injure you, they may be committing a serious criminal offence – conspiracy to injure – in addition to bullying.

That culture of initiation and a ”bit of fun” is bullying. The boy who suffered from those injuries eventually received compensation from the company.

His was an obvious workplace injury, but some bullying involves what is known as ”symbolic violence”. It is subtler, but as dangerous and destructive as the more obvious tactics of bullies.

Workplace bullying often leaves its victims with a feeling of intense fear, helplessness or horror of the workplace. The most common reactions to bullying trauma are flashbacks and a constant sense of reliving the distressing experience.

Bullying is not your ”perception”, nor is it merely the fact that some label you as ”sensitive”. It is a power play: bullies like their victims to know that they, the bullies, have the power and they are smug in their knowledge that you will do nothing about it.

However, your workplace should not be a battlefield. You have the right to be safe. Australian laws, as well as the United Nations’ human rights charter, enshrine workplace safety.

One reason workplace bullying victims find it difficult to seek help is they are afraid they will be seen as a weak person who is unable to cope. Yet research shows that victims are usually ”competent, successful, confident and qualified, in contrast to bullies who are weak, jealous and lacking in confidence”. Bullies seek to weaken their victims through one-on-one tactics to break the victim’s spirit. Co-workers who may be jealous of the victim could also collectively act in mobbing activities as sycophants of the bully to weaken or even destroy the victim. If a gang at work conspires to injure you, they may be committing a serious criminal offence – conspiracy to injure – in addition to bullying.

Public servants

Following is an extract from the Australian Public Service Commission’s workplace harassment guidelines. It is, no doubt, typical of the defence usually used by governments and corporations.

Workplace harassment must not be confused with legitimate comment and advice (including relevant negative comment and feed back) from managers and supervisors on the work performance or work-related behaviour of an individual or group. Feedback on work performance or work-related behaviour differs from harassment in that feedback is intended to assist staff to improve work performance or the standard of their behaviour.

You are entitled to ”quiet enjoyment” in your workplace. The UN enshrines safe and healthy working conditions. Workplace injuries that are caused by harassment are a result of unsafe and unhealthy working conditions.

If you are bullied or harassed while working in a government department in any country that is a member of the UN, consider invoking article 7 of the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights. If the government does nothing, it will have breached its UN obligations.

You must inform the most senior official possible (the prime minister, department head, etc). It is important that you, the injured person, are not swept sideways to a ”harassment awareness officer” to resolve the matter. These officers at usually attached to human resources teams and their job is to ensure that staff have the mandatory training and do not make waves by ”going to the top”. In fact, it is forbidden in some large organisations for employees to do so. However, those who ignore that directive and go directly to a minister or department head are given priority attention, so as to avoid a costly court case.

Any government employee in a country that is a UN member can rely on article 7, which says:

The states to the present covenant recognise the right of everyone to the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work which ensure, in particular … safe and healthy working conditions.

Therefore, injuries caused by workplace bullying or harassment in a government department that are ignored by ”the top” will result in that particular country breaching its UN obligations.

Australia’s federal World Health Organisation Act says: ”Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” The act obliges Australia to attain the objectives of the WHO – that is, for all people to attain the highest possible level of health. Workplace bullying and its subsequent injuries therefore contravene the objectives of the WHO, of which Australia is a member. This argument can be employed if you are in the armed services, a public servant or an employee of any other government organisation. And remember: if ”the top” is made aware of the bullying behaviour and its consequences, the person who reports the behaviour is less likely to be victimised.

Kathryn-Magnolia Feeley is a Canberra lawyer. This article contains edited extracts from her book Workplace Bullying Survival (Smashwords, 2012), which describes alternative legal avenues for bullying victims.

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